RJ’s interview at Writer Groupie

Kim Smith authorI sat down in the midst of the holiday insanity of last December to Skype with Kim Smith, the charming hostess of the Writer Groupie Podcast, and talked about my favorite topic for 40 minutes: me. Specifically, she asked about my ghost stories, my love of science fiction, and asked about my upcoming release, Commanding the Red Lotus. She also asked what advice I’d give to an aspiring writer.

So when you have a half hour and change to spare, check out the full interview by clicking here (scroll toward the bottom of the page) and then let Kim knows you loved it as much as I did.

kim coverAlso, Click this link to check out Kim’s Kindle ebook download FREE this week only. Enjoy! (What, not all my posts run 1k words)

RJ to be at Imaginarium 2015

E. Chris Garrison, me, John F. Allen
E. Chris Garrison, me, John F. Allen

Next weekend I’ll be attending the Second Annual Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, KY. Last year’s event was, quite simply, the most fun I had last year. With Seventh Star Press as a major organizer and several Speculative Fiction Guild authors well represented, I’m anticipating bigger, better, and more fun than ever.

What is Imaginaruim? Quite simply, If you love books and the people who write them, or you aspire to write and want an inspiring weekend training seminar, Imaginarium will be the place to be.

First of all, let’s get to a huge change over year one. The change that affects each and every one of you. The dealer’s room, crammed full of authors and vendors, will be free and open to the public. To participate in the programming, you need to buy a one-day or weekend pass, but if you just want to shop for yourself or for people on that list that starts to become relevant very soon, you can come and go as you like, free of charge. Click here to see Imaginarium’s website to read all the details about location, passes, hotel, etc.

11403423_1017912164885713_4460008536803645248_nYou’ll find me at a table with good buddies John F. Allen and Chris Garrison in the Seventh Star Press section. You’ll find my full array of books, which you can buy with cash or credit card all weekend. Autographs as always are free and worth every penny you pay. Here’s my price list:

10468076_813484258661839_5960947186833888854_nHaunting Blue $15
Haunting Obsession $10
Virtual Blue $15
Darkness with Chance of Whimsy $10
Lost Sole Ghosties $5 each or free with any purchase
I’ll also have special deals on multiple title purchases.

I’m on three panels this year, my schedule:

Fri, 7 pm in the Madison Room
Comics and the Silver Screen: Also with Glenn Porzig, John F. Allen, S.C. Houff, and T. Lee Harris

Sat, Noon in the Oldham Room
The Great Space Opera Debate: also with Dave Creek, Kathryn Sullivan, and Katina French

Sat, 9 pm in the Shelby Room
Writing a series: Also with Brick Marlin, Melissa Goodman, T. Lee Harris, and Teresa Reasor

Of course, you’re all coming just to see me, but you should know there’s dozens of panels for readers and writers, a movie screening room, a masquerade ball, and two free writer’s workshops. Hope to see you there! And if you can’t make it, follow my updates on Facebook and Instagram throughout the weekend.

Check out my photo album from Imaginarium 2014.

RJ’s Post Imaginarium…uh…post

Eric Garrison, me, John F. Allen
E. Chris Garrison, me, John F. Allen

Here’s where I brag about what an awesome time I had, that you didn’t have, because you chose to do something other than go to Imaginarium in Louisville, KY, last weekend. Ready, here we go.

With perfect weather and essentially a one highway route, the drive from Indy to Louisville could not have gone better. John F. Allen and I made the drive in a tad over two hours. The hotel was easy access off the highway exit.

Speaking of easy access, I need to praise the layout of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. As someone restricted to walking short distances, the public accessible doors next to the showroom were terrific, and the elevator access to the rooms was great. Very compact and convenient all around. These things are a concern for me, and the floor plan was definitely created with convenience in mind.

Registration was fast and smooth. We were given immediate access to our tables to set up. Con buddy Eric Garrison (AKA E. Chris Garrison) joined us and we were set up before con start with time to mingle.

10626624_10204999602175485_5942939685514450843_n
Fire drill posers.

At any convention, something has to go wrong, and at least this time it happened early with0ut serious consequences. I was never clear if what happened was a planned fire drill, a prank, or perhaps a lit cigarette, but whatever happened, the fire alarm went off, and the room full of vendors found themselves herded out the back doors into the parking lot for the next several minutes. I tucked up by the loading dock doors and waited it out.

I displayed my paranormal trilogy, plus my Lost Soles and Akira LacquersVirtual Blue nail polish. Everything received some love and attention, but the Lost Soles–the hand-stitched stuffed ghosts created by Mrs RJ and our three nerds in the making–were the big winner for my sales. How awesome is that?

Troll Under the Bridge tries to thumb-slap me.
Troll Under the Bridge tries to thumb-slap me.

Food, like other services, was easy and convenient. The hotel served an exceptionally large and yummy burger, dressed for a night out. Next to it was a nice grab-n-go kiosk. Friday night a group of us gathered at the local favorite Troll Under the Bridge Pub, and we even found a McDonald’s and Taco Bell for a convenient bite.

Networking opportunities were tremendous. I have been a fan of indie author Kat French for about a year, so meeting and talking with her was a highlight. The workshop run by Tim Waggoner was stellar. Touched base with Jackie Gamber, J.L. Mulvihill, Selah Janel, Amy McCorkle, David Mattingly, Jason Sizemore, Maurice “The Imaginator” (“Don’t call me the Imaginator”) Broaddus, Michael West, James O Barnes, the always awesome Janet Harriett….so many more. It was great to see D.A. Adams doing fairly well following some health concerns, and spend some time catching up with him.

Ash Arceneaux, A.D. Roland, Ash Roland, Audra Steia, and me...wait, what?
Ash Arceneaux, A.D. Roland, Ash Roland, Audra Steia, and me…wait, what?

I had two other special moments I need to mention: I was also reunited with Ms. Ash Roland, an author buddy who goes back early in my publishing journey. Ash was instrumental in securing my first publishing deal, created the first cover, the book trailer, and who I shadowed at Context in 2010 to learn the whole vending process. She’s a talented horror writer, artist, and friend, and it was terrific to see her again after a four year gap.

Also, through a happy coincidence, my brother and his wife traveled from Indy to Louisville to accompany my niece to visit a nearby college. They just happened to make reservations at the Crowne Plaza, and we had dinner together Saturday night.

I met a LOT LOT LOT of new people….so many, that if I attempted to name them, I would embarrass myself, so let’s just leave it at, you know who you are.

I did my best to impart whatever wisdom I could at my panels, and I know I learned a lot at the workshop.

What followed after was the masquerade dance, a room party, more at the dance, more at the room party, Otters were mentioned in inappropriate conversation, things got late, things got fuzzy. During the dance, Jordan Bell requested Cyndi Lauper (Goonies R Good Enough, whoop-whoop) on my behalf and several people chanted “Oh Awjay.”

Bottom Line: Imaginarium was a blast!! For a first year event, organization and efficiency far above expectations–perhaps the most well-run con I’ve been to. Kudos to Stephen Zimmer and Susan Roddey for that. Imaginarium was well worth the trip. It was an amazing networking and educational experience. They threw a great party. Sales were low, but that’s normal with any first year event. Make your plans now. This is the place to be next year.

Click here to view my overstuffed photo album from Imaginarium Weekend.

PS: I regret to announce that due to many circumstances beyond my control, I am unable to attend Context this year.

RJ at Imaginarium: A Stalker’s Guide

This weekend is the first-ever Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, KY, a new reader- and writer-centric convention (in which Seventh Star Press is playing a starring role) darn well determined to be a mind-blowing experience or die trying.

I’ll be in the Seventh Star Press section with my Indy author peeps John F. Allen and Eric Garrison, selling my paranormal trilogy, the new Virtual Blue Nail Polish, and my Lost Soles. During vendor’s hours, you’ll find me at the booth most of the time, or I’m on panel duty at one of the following discussions:

Friday
5 PM Critique Groups: Positives & Negatives: Some people call them a blessing, others a curse. Here’s your chance to get the lowdown from published authors on critique groups and how they both help and harm writers.
Moderator: Marian Allen Other Panelists: Matthew Barron, David Blalock, Andrea Judy, Kristen Kindoll

Saturday
10 AM Don’t Let Genre Get in Your Way: When you sit down to write do you find yourself trying to force your plot into a specific mold? It’s far past time you let your writing take flight without parameters. Come ask questions from our cross-genre panelists and learn the best way to write what you want to write on your own terms.
Moderator: Robert Krog Other Panelists: A. Christopher Drown, Jackie Gamber, Georgia L. Jones, Terri-Lynne Smiles

11 AM Plotters vs. Pantsers: The age-old war rages on: are you a plotter or a pantser? Or are you something in between? Come hear our panelists talk about their storytelling prep work.
Moderator: Denise Verrico Other Panelists: Cam Crowder, Mandi M. Lynch, Pamela Turner, M.B. Weston

RJ Will be attending a workshop 2-3:30 PM

3:30 PM Author on Author Interviews: Authors break into teams and interview each other.
Moderator: Lee Martindale Other Panelists: Robby Hilliard, Kristen Kindoll, Rebekah McAuliffe, Anderson O’Donnell, Mysti Parker

It’s shaping up into a pretty incredible weekend! Hope to see some of you there!

Inconjunction Recap

10519651_826374600706138_2230090658348255553_nNOTE: due to preparations for last week’s all encompassing Blog Tour, this post-con report is two weeks late.

Rarely have I been so excited about a convention, and I know I’ve never put in as much pre-planning into an event as I did for Inconjunction weekend this past July 4-6.

I teamed up with my author buddies John F. Allen, Matthew Barron and Eric Garrison. (Also thanks to David Jobe for helping man the booth for parts of Saturday).  We put the extra effort and expense into splitting costs for a vendor booth, displayed an array of book titles, doo-dads, and nail polish (yes, nail polish!) and went for it in a big way.

And then there were panels. My first was with Eric Garrison and con co-guest of honor Kat Falls in a lively discussion on Book Trailers. Throughout the weekend, I participated on no less than three panels on genre TV and movies (and met a very enthusiastic Mike Suess!), and was part of the candlelight horror reading, where I premiere a new work in progress weird western to great response. I also heard a very impressive reading by a Mr. Jeff Seymour. I plan to keep an eye on this guy, and you should, too!

On top of that, the four of us along with our booth neighbor Crystal Leflar teamed together under the banner Speculative Fiction Guild to run two open mini-workshops designed to offer some structural writing advice for the beginner. Both of these were well attended and received enthusiastically.

We were not without a few bumps in the road (literally and figuratively). John arrived two days post-food poisoning and needed part of Friday to recover, but he quickly got back on track, and brought his knowledge of all things comic books in time for the panel. Saturday night proved a comedy errors. In trying to re-create a local dining experience from a year ago with Kathy Watness and Loconeal‘s James Barnes, we found that, not only didthe Chinese restaurant we target closed for the holiday, but so did our second choice, and ended up at choice number three, an El Jaripeo near Washington Square (very good however!). On returning to the hotel, police cars zipped along 21st and Shadeland, past our vehicle, going full speed, while John valiantly navigated construction and each need to pull over, during which at least a dozen cars passed us! (We found out later they were going toward the tragic east side shooting.)

Check out my Facebook photos of Inconjunction!

As convention crowds went, I’d call it a mid-sized group, but an enthusiastic group, eager to talk, and when all was said and done, also eager to support our efforts by visiting our booth and taking home some books!

I can honestly say I’ve never had such an exhausting weekend, but the results were well worth it. Inconjunction was a blast. I’m starting the countdown to next year!

 

Writing Tips Continued: Changing your Point of View

Point of View, part 3

In Point of View Part 2, I touched upon the magic of writing your stories from a point of view character and how this can make your stories come to life. (If you don’t remember, that was back in September, so check it out here) We’ve only scratched the surface of the intricacies and potential mistakes inherent of this sort of writing. It’s time to dig a little deeper. The summary first:

Once you begin a scene in a specific character’s point of view, stay in that character’s head at least until the scene concludes and you’re ready to start the next scene.

No exceptions. Read the above paragraph as many times as you need to until it sinks in. If you think about breaking the rule, smack yourself. Then read it again.

No. Really. Don’t ever do it. I know when I have posted other rules, I have, without exception so far, followed up with examples of when it is okay to break that rule. But there is no exception to this rule.

Well….that is…..

Okay, okay, okay!! There is one exception that I know of, and that applies to romance and erotica intimacy scenes, where “head hopping” (further defined below) to a certain extent is permitted, but  since I’m not the person to talk about this, watch for a future guest blog from the current president of the Indiana Romance Writer’s chapter. (THAT should keep people checking my page daily for awhile.)

So let’s dig a little deeper.

First, it’s a generally accepted rule of thumb that a short story should start in, and stay in, a single character’s point of view from beginning to end. And yes, you’ll find many exceptions to this (including stories that open with an omniscient voice as discussed here), but generally, editors take a dim view of short stories that shift the point of view during the narrative. Too much shifting in a short story will cause an editor to add your story to the reject pile. And unless there is a clear and obvious reason for doing so that benefits the story greatly, a short story should stick to one point of view.

A novel, because it is a longer narrative, offers more opportunity to shift points of view. In thrillers and similar genres, a storyteller can ratchet up the tension by jumping from the hero to an occasional scene with the villain, with a blatant or understood “meanwhile”.   In fiction with romantic elements, a scene with Him, followed by a scene with Her, certainly makes for a pleasant reading experience. Several ambitious novelists can weave an epic story shifting between six, eight or even more characters (but the rule of changing the character point of view only between scenes or chapters still applies). Stephen King’s epic THE STAND is one of the better-known of this sort of storytelling.

AN ASIDE: I’ve seen an interesting new form of “first person from multiple points of view” used in commercial epic fantasy. The change of point of view takes place every chapter, heading the chapter with the name of the character, followed by a first person narrative from that character’s point of view. Then the next chapter is named after another character, and the narrative proceeds in the first person, but in that new character’s point of view. If you want to read something pretty cool in such a style, check out the epic fantasy series by Daniel Abraham.

Now, returning to point one: Never ever, ever, switch points of view in the middle of a scene–at least, don’t do it on purpose. This is called “head-hopping.” It’s a common mistake for beginning writers, and so far, it seems no matter how “good” or experienced one gets, it’s still easy to do on accident, even after years of practice.

What do I mean by head hopping?

A quick and obvious example:

      Tom walked into the bar. He looked around and saw the gorgeous blonde sitting at the bar across the room.

     Tammy noticed the burly man approach. She shook her head and released a sigh. The last thing she needed was another slimeball trying to pick her up.

The first paragraph presents Tom’s point of view, then the second paragraph “hopped” to Tammy’s point of view. The presents a number of problems in storytelling, not the least of which is, there is no dramatic or story-related reason to change heads.

Here’s something for new writers to look for. If the responses to your story from trusted pre-readers is that “it was just okay” but no one can tell you why they weren’t into it, or why it didn’t move them, check to see if you were head hopping. Chances are, you were.

Even if a reader can’t articulate what was “wrong” with a scene or story, head-hopping, because of its flip-flop structure, causes a mental fatigue and affects a reader’s ability to “escape” into a story. (That, plus too much emphasis on the visual approach as discussed here are two big signs of a beginner)

Plus, head-hopping blows great opportunities for drama. Take Tom in our example. Suppose he considers himself a charmer with the ladies and decides to approach Tammy. Written from his perspective, he would be oblivious to her attitude, and his surprise when she tells him to buzz off becomes the reader’s surprise at the same moment.

So how to choose a point of view? The first thing a writer should do before composing any scene is determine: who is the central character of the scene? Sometimes this is obvious. If Tom talks to Tammy, then Tammy leaves, and Tom continues to talk with the bartender, then compose the entire scene from Tom’s point of view. Otherwise you need to break the scene and resume the action from the head of another character. Just think the scene through. The answer is not always that simple, but more often than not, it is.

Why does this work so well? Because as human beings, we live life confined to our own head, and sticking with one character best re-creates our life experience. It’s a view readers are most familiar with because they live it every day.

So whether we’re talking about deep third or first person, all a writer needs to do is compose each scene from inside the head of a single character’s POV and stick with it. Easy, right?

Wrong.

Because there are several ways this can get fouled up, and we’ll look at some examples in the next blog.

Writing Tips Continued: Person or persons defined

After a too-long break, I’m finally continuing on with my writing tips series of articles. Specifically, it’s time to continue with the point of view discussion.

First of all, if you don’t know this series (and you might not, as I started it months ago and took a long break) you can start here, here, here, and finally, my first two parts on point of view here and here.

We’re almost ready to look much deeper at the process and pitfalls of keeping a consistent point of view, whether you’re composing a “deep third” or “first person” narrative, there’s a lot to track.

But first, let’s take a step back and define out terms–I probably shouldn’t presume that everyone knows what I mean by “deep third person” as opposed to any other person or point of view. So before we dig deep, we’re going to get rudimentary and review some terms many of you may not have considered since elementary grammar (but it won’t be painful, I promise). If you are a reader, you probably have experienced as many as three of these four “person” narratives even if you never knew them by name.

First Person: A story told from the first person point of view has much in common with the deep third person point of view discussed further down in this article. I sometimes think of it as the “diary voice” or the blog voice (this blog is written in first person). It’s distinguished by the word “I” throughout the narrative, such as: “As I walked along the sidewalk, something grabbed at my ankles.” The story unfolds as if the character is either sitting with you and telling you the tale or as if you are reading a written account or journal of the event.

First person narratives have a long, respected history in classic and contemporary literature, going back hundreds of years , but if polls are to be believed, the style has fallen out of favor with some contemporary readers. Some (perhaps questionable) statistics say 80% or more of modern readers prefer deep third over first person and some readers feel so strongly that they will put down a novel as soon as they discover it’s written in first person, and some magazines and book publishers won’t consider first person narratives (though not significant enough to make that a deciding factor in how a writer approaches a story). (I find it interesting that the latest Nancy Drew books, historically third person narratives, have changed to a first person approach with the latest incarnation.)

But the first person voice is still relevant in contemporary literature. That the first person narrative happens to come in second in popularity in a two-style race (or some weird mixed metaphor there) the style is alive, well, and thriving. A big reason for this is that it offers an intimacy (particularly in thrillers and horror stories) that other points of view do not. My first novel Haunting Blue is told from the first person perspective of my punk girl high school protagonist Blue Shaefer.

Although I’m a fan of the form, the first person tale offers some significant restrictions, the biggest being that the style pretty much locks an author into a single character’s perspective throughout an entire story. (There are some creative cheats, and I use one in Haunting Blue, but never mind…) No novel, properly told in the first person, could ever read, “And then I dropped down into a hole and the world went black. While I lay  unconscious, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics dropped down a rope…” Nor can it include a scene such as “Meanwhile, unknown to me, the villain and his henchmen were making plans….”

OPINION: A first person narrative makes a great first project for a new writer, because problems and errors in the manuscript are relatively easy to spot in the editing process.

Note–since posting this, it seems the above paragraphs are being seen as discouraging or dismissing first person narrative. I am not. Please see my comment after this article for further clarification of my view.

Second person: You may read your entire life and never experience a book or short story told in the second person point of view. (see what I did there?) Second person is usually confined to the realm of experimental literature, though I can think of one wildly popular and commercial series that uses the second person, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” juvenile novels and various copycats.

While second person is intended to immerse a reader into a story, it more often has the opposite effect, as the narrator inserts “you” into the action. A typical second person narrative reads: “You walk into the restaurant and sit down. You look at a menu. From the corner of your eye, you notice the school bully watching you from across the room. ” You get the idea. (See what I did again?) Given the goals of this series, we won’t be looking at second person narrative; it’s included here for the sake of completeness.

Omniscient third person narrative: The omniscient voice, or the “all-knowing” perspective, originated in the telling of myths, fairy tales, and other stories passed down from oral tradition, and can be found in ancient literature and even fairly modern genre pieces of the 1800s and early 20th century. In contemporary fiction, the omniscient narrative is used quite effectively in the introductory chapters of epic fantasy and as a valid “opening” to some thriller genres. A certain anthology style genre show of classic television utilized opening a story with an omniscient narrative in every episode.

An omniscient narrative voice can still be an effective story opener (my short story The Assurance Salesman has a brief omniscient opening, as does Robot Vampire) but  the wise storyteller settles into deep third person as soon as possible. A couple good examples should help clarify the omniscient voice. Let me channel my inner JRR Tolkien and Rod Serling, two legendary storytellers that utilized the omniscient narrative to great effect:

Bagnars are extraordinarily tall creatures, and quite bulky, but that’s not what makes them so odd. In spite of their appearance, Bagnars are terrified of the dark. And while they may look ferocious, they are rather gentle in disposition.

Or this.

Portrait of a writer. Paul Hallowby, age 30; a weaver of words; a knitter of narrative. Tonight he taps out his latest composition in a futile race to fill the virtual screen with the dark ramblings of his demented dreams. In a moment, someone will knock on Hallowby’s door. Who is that someone?  In this case, call that someone “Fate.” What happens next will change one writer’s wretched world forever.

Wow, wonder who that is! I’m guessing it’s a Bagnar. Okay, moving on.

That brings us to the deep third person point-of-view (often just called third person or deep third). Third person is the most popular, most accessible, in-demand narrative approach among contemporary readers. Deep third also offers a plethora of structural pitfalls for a writer to fall into. It has a lot in common with the first person narrative.

Technically, on a scene-by-scene basis, a first person short story or novel can be rewritten into a deep third narrative by simply changing the “I’s” and adjusting as you go. “I opened my wallet, only to find that someone had taken my cash.” becomes “Joe opened his wallet, only to find that someone had taken his cash.” And so on. If you need another example, go back to my point of view article here to read an entire scene in deep third from Chip’s point of view.

But while such a conversion creates a valid deep third story, the form offers more flexibility than that. One huge advantage that deep third offers over the first person is that your point of view character can change from scene to scene without confusing the reader. It’s a fairly standard practice to present a scene from the protagonist’s point of view, then start the next scene in another location and from the point of view of the villain (with an understood or implicit “meanwhile”).

In the next article, among other things, we’ll look at popular guidelines on how often a storyteller should change points of view in novels and short stories, and the reasons why.

Deep third person offers the emmersive experience of first person without the limitation of being trapped in a single character’s head. But as I said before, that versatility comes with a number of hidden traps and easy-to-make errors–errors that even experienced writers wind up making on occasion.

In the next couple of articles in this series, I’ll take a look at a few.

Note–an earlier version of this article stated that 80% or more readers would put down a book if it is written in first person. I wrote that in error. The statement has been corrected.